March 2, 2017
By John Heisler
One of the hit moments from the Sunday night Oscars telecast on ABC came when host Jimmy Kimmel welcomed startled and star-struck tourists into the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
Former University of Notre Dame star lefthanded softball pitcher Jennifer Sharron helped orchestrate the logistically complicated gag that would ultimately play out live, with over 30 million viewers watching in the United States alone.
Kimmel's producers plotted to entice the group of unsuspecting tourists into the theatre. Sharron (now Jen Sharron Richardson), co-executive producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live, helped make the bit happen, along with writer and supervising producer Gary Greenberg.
The process began some seven weeks prior to the Oscars telecast, once Kimmel had been named the host in December-with Kimmel's production staff collaborating with Oscars producers to create the run of show.
"The genesis of it came from a writers' meeting and Jimmy said he wanted to bring some real people into this event, because movies are for real people," Kimmel head writer Danny Ricker told Michael Schneider of IndieWire.com. "He was interested in combining those two groups, and Gary had the idea of hijacking a Starline tour bus."
So Sharron approached Starline Tours-the same double-decker tour bus she would see every day on Hollywood Boulevard.
"There were a lot of layers to the planning because there's a great deal of security with this event," says Sharron. "And you want to try to get the right characters there to interact because if the people on the bus don't react it's not going to be good television.
"We had an amazing tour guide that we cast in that role (Jim Nieb), and the two weeks leading up to the Oscars we drove around on the bus to create our revised tour with the actual driver we would have on that Oscars Sunday. We started at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, headed down Sunset Boulevard into Beverly Hills, then into West Hollywood and back to the Dolby Theatre. This was not a traditional route so we tried to find some iconic sights to see along the way.
"You practice this, but it's Los Angeles so you don't know whether traffic is going to be worse or better on show day. So we had to work on the timing of the tour-plus taking into account the line show element-you don't know if once we get to the Dolby the show would be running late and that was another key coordination. There was plenty of fine-tuning and strategizing going on while we were doing the tour.
"We literally were waiting in the stairwell outside the theatre door-everyone saw that shot on the air."
Sharron played the part of a Starline tour guide assistant. Greenberg originally had planned on dressing as a tourist but ultimately also dressed as a tour guide assistant.
"They were covertly sending us information on these people, so we knew who Jimmy should talk to, and any interesting information about them," Ricker told IndieWire.com. "So while the Oscars are going, we're backstage writing jokes as we get texts saying, '(These people) are engaged, and they like these celebrities.' We were rewriting jokes for Jimmy on the air. That came together after the Oscars had started, it was going on in the background."
Sharron had helped convince the tourists on the bus that they were part of a special Oscars-Day Starline tour featuring a behind-the-scenes look at some exhibits from the awards show at the Dolby Theatre. Instead the group walked into the live Oscars telecast and filed past the front row loaded with celebrities. Kimmel tipped off the audience in advance, so everyone at the theatre knew the Starline bus had been commandeered.
"We loved the way these celebrities interacted with them," fellow head writer Molly McNearney told IndieWire.com. "One of the goals, particularly this year, was to bring the country together. It was a great moment where you got to see real people interacting with these people perceived as elitist."
Nominated actor Denzel Washington helped the bit work immensely by standing up and interacting with a soon-to-be-married couple from Chicago.
"I wish there had been a camera on the writers when Denzel ran up because that was like hitting a 3-pointer," Ricker said to IndieWire.com. "This bit could have gone disastrously, but she loved Denzel, he happened to be in his seat at that moment and he hopped up and played along."
Added Sharron, "We didn't cast these people, so this was completely spontaneous. They came out the other side and they were shocked. We got all the people back on the bus and then explained how we had set it up. And they all started laughing. They were all such nice people and as you're doing this you realize you are about to change these people's lives a little bit. This was something these dozen people are going to remember forever. They were thrilled. It's one of the fun elements of producing.
"We do man-on-the-street bits every day on our (Jimmy Kimmel Live) show, so this was not necessarily unusual for us. But once you've got all the people on the bus, you never know for sure what's going to happen. But the celebrities were amazing."
The Notre Dame softball team last month traveled to the Los Angeles area to open the season in a tournament at Long Beach State and attended Jimmy Kimmel Live thanks to Sharron, who has been with Kimmel's show since its inception in 2003. Before her promotion to co-executive producer, she served as supervising producer, overseeing all the pre-taped and live comedy bits for the show. Sharron previously was a field producer and helped create pre-taped comedy segments, interviews and scripted pieces.
Sharron became the first Big East Conference student-athlete to win the league's pitcher-of-the-year award four consecutive times (1998-2001). She sits among Notre Dame's all-time leaders in wins (88), complete games (76), and innings pitched (722.1). A two-time All-American (2000-01), Sharron also earned Academic All-America honors as a senior. A two-year team captain (2000-2001), she led her team to the NCAA Championship in three of her four seasons on the mound.
Sharron graduated from Notre Dame in 2001 with a degree in film, television and theatre and competed for the United States Women's National Softball Team during the summer following her senior year.
Originally from Agoura Hills, California (30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles), she currently lives with her husband and two children in Woodland Hills, California. Sharron serves as a member of the Notre Dame Monogram Club board of directors.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on UND.com